Finnish is notoriously regarded as a difficult language to learn. As a foreign adult learner of the Finnish language, I find it culturally revealing and interesting to learn. Personally, having studied Ancient Greek for 6 years and Latin for 3 years, learning Finnish is a doable task. In this sense, Finnish is just different from other western languages of Indo-European origin.
People often mistakenly -due to their ignorance and stereotypical notions- assume Finnish is related to either Swedish or Russian. This is the reason why I get a lot of: ‘Finnish is like Swedish, huh?’ Both Swedish and Russian belong to the Indo-European group of languages, while Finnish is one of the Finno-Ugric languages. The Finno-Ugric language group includes Hungarian, Estonian and several lesser-known languages spoken in Russia.
Why Finnish is a tough language?
Latin with its six cases and Ancient Greek with its five cases are regarded difficult, that is the reason why people infer that Finnish language with its fifteen must be even more arduous to master. In my opinion, here are the hindrances for a foreign learner:
1) Consonant gradation (k,p,t astevaihtelu). The sixteen alternation patterns make it a nightmare for a beginner to even look up a word in the dictionary.
2) Cases’ endings. The cases correspond to the prepositions of the Indo-European languages. They can express a variety of things (place, time, ownership, object, manner) and what is most confusing is that you have to know what you want to say before starting to add the various endings to the stem. It is a true mind exercise that results in chain-words.
3) Partitiivi. The most difficult case. It is hard to grasp the logic behind it and even when you do there is an exception that throws it all away.
4) Exceptions. One rule, ten exceptions. The endless amounts of grammatical forms and exceptions to be memorized often discourage learners.
5) Absence of gender. The same pronoun ‘hän’ denotes both he and she. It may happen that you read a whole book without knowing the sex of the main character.
6) Word order. The subject can be either in the nominative or partitive case depending on what is the new information you want to give away. For instance, ‘Kadulla on koiria’= ‘There are some dogs on the street’ and ‘Koirat ovat kadulla’ = ‘The dogs are on the street’.
7) Kirjakieli vs. puhekieli. Teachers try to explain Finnish in the most official and academic way but reality is often proven different. What you learn at the Finnish course might be outdated in every day discussions. We learn: ’Me maalaamme talon ensi kesänä.’ Finns say: ’Me maalataan talo ensi kesänä.’